Hurray For The Riff Raff visits behind the 2017 concept album "The Navigator." Info/tix
Hurray For The Riff Raff is the multi-faceted project of nuyorican songwriter and vocalist Alynda Segarra. Growing up in the Bronx, Segarra was drawn to the punk and Latin poetry scenes in the Lower East Side. Struggling to find her place and identity, Segarra ran away at 17 and eventually settled in New Orleans. There she played washboard for a tramp band called Dead Man's Street Orchestra and self-released her first EP, 2007's Crossing The Rubicon. In the decade between that release and 2017's The Navigator, Segarra has created a composite that blends American folk, country, blues, and Latin influences.
A concept album, The Navigator builds on a self-inspired narrative that follows a Puerto Rican city kid named Navita Milagros Negrón. In design, the album is theatrical, presenting itself in two "Acts" and with explicit opening and closing tracks. The album commences with "Entrance," a doo-wop hymn, complete with characteristic nonsense syllables and lack of instruments. Beginning with sounds of city clamor, a male choral ensemble sings "One for the navigator / Call my Lord!" then proceeds to harmonize and back up Segarra's sweet vocal melody. The closing track, "Finale," pairs an acoustic melody with Latin-inspired percussion. Segarra's vocals are sung in English, but Spanish verses are also incorporated at times in the undercurrent and others in the forefront. The starting and ending points of the album perhaps function to acknowledge Segarra's own geographic origin—New York City, where doo-wop thrived in the 1950s and '60s—and the journey of reconnecting with her Puerto Rican roots.
The body of the album has an abstract, wandering storyline that explores themes of gentrification, colonization, and navigating identity among clashing cultural identities. "The Navigator" has a somber, romantic quality with latin-inspired percussion and sustained violin melody. In the outro, Segarra sings "Oh where, will all my people go?... Oh, where, will all my people live," as if she's plagued with the uncertainty and insecurity of displaced groups. In "Rican Beach," Segarra points out the damage of gentrification and appropriation. She declares, "Well you can take my life / But don't take my home / Baby it's a solid price / It comes with my bones," acknowledging the ejected people as the soul of these communities. The album culminates in a call to arms, the piano-fronted ballad "Pa'lante." On this track, Segarra gracefully moves between a strong, poetic tone and belting the first three verses before transitioning into a more melodic bridge and eventually sampling Pedro Pietri's "Puerto Rican Obituary" speech.
The breadth of musical styles intermingle seamlessly and echo the autobiographical quality of The Navigator, paying homage to Segarra's nuyorican roots, southern dwellings, and nomadic constitution. Despite the conceptual nature of the album, Segarra maintains a rawness and humanity, showcasing the personal and political convictions that birth her music. Katie Crutchfield's band Waxahatchee and Syrian-born Azniv Korkejian's country-folk blend Bedouine round out this bill. —Katie Richards